Yeah even I’ll admit that’s a weird title. I’m hoping by the end I’ll have forced it all to make sense, but trust me, it’s totally apt to today’s topic.
See I’ve been flying pretty high these past few weeks out here in the sand and sun. Partly due to my ongoing (possibly inflated) sense of acheivement for having delivered an absolutely killer episode on my debut as a staff writer and partly due to the continuing praise that has generated from peers and colleagues alike on this mission we call ‘TV writing’.
From that illustrious first homer out of the park in this game of sportsball I have proceeded forward with an absolute certainty in my ability to follow my dream, to work hard and deliver on what I say I can and to generally achieve anything and everything I have ever wanted. Why not? I’ve worked (on and off) for more than a decade to get myself to where I am, and in my mind this job is not the culmination of all that work, it’s just a stepping stone to the next thing. As terrified as I am to write it out sometimes, this job is not just a chance ‘flash in the pan’ of luck that will never be repeated, but rather is the first of many opportunities that I will both make for myself and I will come across as I keep chasing down everything I want to get out of life.
We can all see where this is going, right? (Yeah Steve, we read the title after all.)
The reality trainwreck has to hit sometime…
How could anything stand in my way now, right? I’m a staff writer on a real TV show that people will (hopefully) see one day, I’ve demonstrated to everyone around me that not only can I do the heavy lifting out here, but most importantly I DESERVE to be here, thanks to my skill and talent. I’m not here because someone’s done a favour for a poor schmuck who can’t catch a break – I can do this whole screenwriting thing and I can do it well! I’m good – I don’t dare say “I’m the best there is” because that’s arrogant as all hell but I can definitely say I am ‘good’ at it. Good like so many others, but good nonetheless.
So several weeks earlier I chose to submit ‘Diesel Wars’ to (now several) screenwriting competitions. For those not fortunate enough to be ‘in the know’ ‘Diesel Wars’ is essentially ‘Band of Brothers’ set in a dieselpunk universe.
“Yay!” My lovely wife thinks to herself, “Something else he writes that I’ll never watch!”
I created it as an outlet for myself after I spent several months working on MOW projects that I can tell you my heart was not totally “in”. I wanted to create something ‘franchisey’ that was still somewhat affordable (in my mind at least) – nothing was set in space, nobody had super powers, existing terrain around Vancouver could be used and even existing WW II era uniforms could be repurposed for the show. Sure it’s not ‘Master of None’ level affordable, but it also isn’t ‘The Expanse’. I wanted to create a franchise world that I didn’t have my heart and soul dug into, ie. I could easily sell it off to someone else without feeling like I was losing a baby, if such an opportunity arose. I even picked the title specifically to invoke the same feeling as ‘STAR WARS’ in people because that’s never a bad association…
So I went and submitted the pilot to a few places, and (full disclosure) I admit that I NEVER thought I would win any of these competitions. “Why enter then, idiot?” You ask. Because I wanted to see how the concept and story fared against other submissions. I wanted to see how far I could make it. Maybe it WOULD go far, who knew? In my mind the ‘semi-finals’ were always the hardest bottleneck for me to pass. The concept is fun enough and exciting enough for genre fans like myself to get on board with, while still not exactly appealing to the ‘prime time drama’ audience. I saw a Netflix/HBO/Amazon/Hulu kind of destination for it.
So the first round of notifications came in this week for the quater-final qualifications of the first competition entered.
Now in my mind, ‘quarter-final’ eliminations are largley the ‘spelling/punctuation/formatting’ eliminations. Ie, if you can’t spell, can’t format and don’t know what the hell you’re doing, this is where you get cut. The REAL cuts come when the semi-finals come around and decisions need to be made based on taste and feasibility. I’ve always known that my taste is awesome but sometimes needs to be ‘acquired’ – it’s ‘feasibility’ that often gets me. I’m not sure I’ve ever concocted a project that is ‘low budget/low barrier/easy to pull off’. Mainly because I don’t look for that in my TV shows. If you get to make things up from your imagination, why not go all out and make up some pretty awesome stuff?
So you’ve all guessed by now, right?
Yeah. Got cut before the quarter-finals. Me, Steve The Wicked Cool Moody, staff writer on a TV show, holder of at least three other WAY more complicated and expensive franchise concepts and progenitor of the ‘one day to be famous Nichecore screenwriting brand’ couldn’t get his foot in the door for a TV pilot competition. I was confused. I was heartbroken. I was FURIOUS.
Like for real? The ONE thing I’ve been shown out here is that I know what I’m doing. I may not be the greatest screenwriter who ever lived (yet) but I have the tools, the talent and the work ethic. At the very least that should show in my work, it should get me INTO the goddamned quarter-finals of a competition on competency alone. Here I am now relegated to the ’empty trash’ folder with everyone who doesn’t know their there’s, their’s and they’re’s (if anyone wants to point out that my apostrophe use is incorrect, don’t, if there is any grammatical challenge in the world I know I still have, it’s apostrophes.) I’m in the rubbish with first-time pilot scribes and the people who are certain that their ‘Capt. Mens Rights Activist’ spec pilot is timley and needed.
Let’s not split hairs about how I felt about all this – I felt that I was BETTER than the stuff I had been lumped in with, and I definitely felt my work was BETTER than a good chunk of what made it further than my epic TV pilot. I felt that I had earned a spot above struggling writer and that this fact should somehow be visible in my work.
Yeah I was feeling a little entitled without ever realizing it. Like I said, I wasn’t looking to ‘win’ this competition, I just wanted to place higher than I ended up doing so. But if I never really figured I’d win, what did it matter that I was out now or two months from now?
Because I had thought my genius was obvious by this point. And like so much else in this business, nothing is ever guaranteed. If I ever wanted a reality check on where I stood with everything, there it was in about as direct and bright a realization as I could ask for. I may have talent and skill, but I can’t just sit on that assuming it’ll get me where I want to go. Nobody will ever give anything to me here, I’m going to have to work for it harder and better than everyone around me.
So I try not to be too bitter. Maybe a little bitter, but not too much. There are a few more competitions coming up that ‘Diesel Wars’ is already entered into. We’ll see how I fare there. I’m loathe to spent more money entering it into any futher competitions until I get some feedback on where the draft is now. So if anyone out there wants to take a READ and get back to me, I’d be pretty thrilled to have the feedback. Hit me up!
What do I take away from all of this? That the entertianment industry is a horrible bitch-goddess that continually beats you down until you wish stupid-Flanders was dead? Yes. Also though, I need to take away the fact that I am a LOOOONG way off of being the valued commodity I’m seeking to be. I’ve proven that I can deliver on making other peoples work great, but I need to keep trying to show that whay my noggin creates can be amazing too.
I’ve always struggled with what I feel is a disconnection between my concepts and my talent. I put words to the page in a style that is frantic, exciting and engaging, but I still have problems getting people, even my illustrious colleagues, to read my own work. Then I feel like I never quite get the reaction I want to something that I am 100% certian is absolute gold.
This is the lesson right? That until you really champion yourself and carry your own work forward what you see in your mind is never the same as what other people get? I’m sure that has to be it. One day I’m going to have that ‘Created By’ credit on a TV show that people can actually watch/stream and it’s going to just make my whole universe. But I’m not there yet. I think that maybe I was already getting too complacent with where this one job was taking me, and the sad reality check that being cut from the competition was a needed kick in the pants to keep moving.
I’ve come a very long way in a relatively short time, or I’ve come a somewhat okay distance in an extremely LONG duration of time, depending on how you look at it. The last thing I want to do is trip over my own sense of arrogant self entitlement. Being part of this business means having a tough skin, a thick skin. No matter how far you make it, how long you’ve been doing it, and how great people tell you that you are, you’re still going to hear a ridiculously disproportionate amount of ‘No’s for every valued ‘Yes’ and I needed to have that point driven home for me.
I know people in the business right now who are having a very hard time with how often ‘No’ is wielded over ‘Yes’, and I get it, I sure as hell do. The trick for me is I’ve spent such a large portion of my life following the wrong path, doing things I never cared about and never really wanted to be doing, thinking that was what I was ‘supposed’ to do. I just can’t stay there anymore. I would rather spend the rest of my days trying to find that elusive yes than surrendering to the fact that I will mostly hear ‘No’s.
There was a time earlier in my life when being cut before the quarter-finals would’ve crushed me nearly beyond saving. (Hell, ask a few people around me when it happened and they’ll probably tell you it almost did this time) Now though, after a day of licking my wounds, I was back at it once again. I may not be pumping a whole lot of money into more competitions at the moment, but you can bet I’m still working at this everyday, writing my own work and work for others, knowing that I will be much more satisfied with plugging on than giving up.
As part of my big desire to see MY concepts come to fruition though I do have a goal for 2018 . I’m going to be shooting my own feature next year. It will be incredibly low budget, incredibly easy to make, and absolutely SPOT ON in terms of everything I want to explore with Nichecore, storywise and visually. It’s an epicly complex goal, but one I feel I need to deliver for myself.
When I’ve wrapped ‘Qatar Solo’ I’ll follow it up with a chronicle of my journey bringing my (as yet to be completed) screenplay ‘TITAN’ to the screen. The process behind that project starts tomorrow with me writing ‘Fade In’ on the script. I’ve always wanted to be a writer far more than I’ve wanted to be a director, but sometimes when you see things in your head so clearly, yet it’s obvious others do not, you need to step out of your comfort zone and truly take a risk.
So yeah, I guess I found some kind of ‘Victory’ in my stinging defeat afterall. More importantly what I really found was a way to make that non-sensical title relevant by the end of my post! Hurray!
Until next time friends.